Corruption in Cambodia is a new subject for me although I have heard and read about it. There are many surveys and articles available. Since my arrival in Cambodia the first experience with corruption was at the airport and being told the cost of an entry visa was $25 (it is $20). The sign said credit card or cash accepted but the serious and officious looking immigration officer holding my passport said he would take cash only and pointed to an ATM. Tired from the long flight I paid the fee. Another traveler in the immigration cue advised me this was common practice as was short-changing people, especially weary travellers passing through a long immigration line in 90 degree heat. The airport is a place to be cautious.
In Cambodia they now use US dollar currency but there are no coins for change. Therefore if you don’t have the exact amount required (and you can’t if the cost involves part of a dollar), you are given change in Cambodian Riel. Four thousand Riel equal one US dollar. In restaurants items like cappuccino (something a tourist is more likely to order) will often cost $1.75 or $2.30, you receive Riel as change. Cambodians prefer US dollars over Riel. If you pay in Riel you may get a dirty look from the merchant involved. It’s easy to get short-changed!
The most heart-breaking thing is seeing young children on the streets begging and selling various crafts. Of course they target tourists and just looking at them breaks you up. it’s important to look for businesses that display a “Childsafe” (http://www.childsafe-international.org) logo signifying they passed a training course in child protection. Giving street children money is not the right way to help. My friend Bhavia Wagner participates in a non-profit organization called Friendship with Cambodia whose mission is – “To respond to the suffering in Cambodia by providing humanitarian aid that empowers people to help themselves. Our wish is to live from our hearts, cultivate compassion, patience and tolerance, embody peace, act with kindness, work together and serve those in need.” The website is www.friendshipwithcambodia.org.
Bhavia published a book entitled Responsible Travel Guide Cambodia. She first visited Cambodia in 1991 and became increasingly involved in the country since then and visits often. She is on a craft buying trip this month (she sells the crafts in the US and returns all money to Cambodia). I will meet up with her in Siem Reap. The book discusses subjects such as:
- Responsible Spending – accommodation, transportation, ecotourism
- Acting and Interacting – being respectful, giving money directly, the environment, ecotourism
If you are travelling to Cambodia, I highly recommend reading the book.